TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE MOVEMENT FOR ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM.
IT would be curious if the war, whieh was to stop all legislative action not imperatively called for—which hail stopped a wise and large measure of Parliamentary Reform—were to be the imme- diate cause of the greatest practical change possible in the government of this country. It is curious without any "if" boding doubt of success, that the City of London should in the year 1855 hold a public meeting, thronged by its busiest men of trade, to give practical effect to Thomas Carlyle's famous Downing Street pamphlets, published in 1850. For look at the movement and the City meeting in the most homely, limited, and businesslike light, as means to remedy the recently-experienced want of ability in the Government departments connected with the military opera- tions in the Crimea, it is impossible to find anything less in its watchword of " the right men in the right places" than a com- prehensive acknowledgment of all that Mr. Carlyle meant and said in those pamphlets of his—anything less than the ultimate meaning of all democratic agitations, when such agitations come rightly to be understood and the letter of them interpreted, by their spirit.
The present movement differs from the various plans for the re- form of the permanent civil service, so much discussed of late, in including them and going beyond them. They have confined themselves to devising means for improving the efficiency of the administrative instruments of political leaders—not venturing to call in question the capacity of the chiefs themselves, or to refer the bad administration which is notorious to the mode in which Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State, and heads of departments in general, are selected. But the present movement, while it demands greater efficiency in the hands that work, aims mainly, unless we misapprehend it, at greater ability and fitness in the heads that set the hands working. And herein, too, the thinker and the man of genius has been beforehand with the "practical" men. He pointed out that the reform needed was of two kinds,—n better per- formance of the work done; and, as the condition of this, a better selection of the work to be done. For the former change, we need to reform the permanent civil service ; for the latter, really the more important, as determining the other, as well as on its own account, we need wiser and abler chief ministers. On the whole, when the City of London indorses the Latter-Day Pamphlets— when genius and wisdom go hand in hand with energy, clear com- mon sense, and civic respectability—what better omen of success can we demand, what stronger proof that the words of the seer have sunk deep into the heart of the nation, and have been echoed back by a million facts, to which the dullest ear can no longer re- main insensible ?
Here we are, then, launched upon a movement which means nothing less than that we all feel that we have been for a long time past governed not by our wisest and ablest men ; and that we mean, so far as in us lies, to shake off our false governors, and seek those who can set us and keep us in the right path. A noble effort, and one certain to succeed if the nation be in earnest about it. And to be in earnest about it means, to be serious and sober in estimating the conditions of success, and resolved to pay the price nature sets on the boon we seek, whether the sacrifice be of our money or of our political habits or our personal prejudices ; and in all probability no great and permanent success is attainable without making great sacrifices of all three. It is indeed indispensable to the success of this movement that those who lead it should thoroughly comprehend where it is leading them, what it means when translated from words into facts, from the language of the platform and the House of Commons into the language of real life. If they do not so understand what they are doing, they will as- suredly turn from the result with alarm and dislike : after putting their bands to the plough they will shrink from putting their hands to the sickle, and the movement will become what its opponents are already disposed to call it, "a flash in the pan."
Briefly then and comprehensively, the movement is an attack upon political parties, an attempt to obviate the natural consequence o party government. So far, the experience of the last few years would augur well for any movement in this direction, because the domestic history of the last few years is one long expression of the national feeling that Whig and Tory are obsolete terms, having no relation whatever to the actual facts of our society, and remaining only as a dead weight, which prevents our attention being effectively turned to those facts. These years have terminat- ed in a pure party administration, which is the oompletest reductio ad absurdum that any theorist could demand to render his demonstration irrefragable. The movement has the advantage of being—all the better for being perhaps unconsciously—in har- mony with the broad contemporaneous tendencies of historic evolution. But our apprehension is that the promoters of the movement are in danger of not clearly perceiving this fact, there- fore of not boldly facing it, therefore of ultimately succumbing to it when they do perceive it. It is an advantage that a movement of this sort should not be the work of theorists, perceiving a grow- ing tendency in history, and trying to anticipate the working of facts ; but it would be a great disadvantage that the promoters of the movement, when facts'have urged it upon them from some special point of view, should remain ignorant of the wider mean- ing their movement assumes when viewed in relation to the universal field of political and social facts. So, we repeat, the movement is an attack on the past management of our affairs
by party, and a protest against the continuance of their ma- nagement in the same hands. A revolution this of the most serious and at the same time of the most hopeful character—a revolution that affects not the form but the substance of govern- ment; and resting on the broad fact that the nation is no longer, if it ever was, made up of political parties, but that these parties are mere wind-undulations on the surface of the great water, whose tides are governed by quite other and superior influences, and ebb and flow in quite other directions.
It is obvious that our statement of the real tendency of this movement is true, because no one can deny that the distribution of offices has hitherto in this country been arranged mainly, if not entirely, by the exigencies of political parties' and it is against this distribution that the movement is directed. Accidentally, it takes the form of a protest against the monopoly of the chief offices of the state by the members of a few titled families, who fill the subor- dinate departments with their connexions, wherever the work and ability demanded of the occupant of office are not commensurate with the emoluments to be received. It is not, however, the rank of the holders of these offices that is the ground of objection. Any one who knows the English people must be well aware that, enteris 'paribus, they would prefer a man of rank for almost any office, and certainly for the higher state offices. Nor is it any desire to hold such offices themselves that draws forth London traders from their counting-houses to -spend time and money in agitation. Most of the leaders in this movement could not afford to take Government offices ; and throughout the country few among the many who clamour against the present system have any ambition or desire for Government employment. The objection is against the badness of the work turned out, the manifest and proved incapacity of those who direct it and those who perform it. It is this and this alone that has roused a practical nation, with plenty of private and profitable business on its hands, to demand that a change shall be made, and the public work be given to those who have ability and will to perform it satisfactorily. The Minister who thinks to meet this movement by any impertinences reflecting on the demo- cratic and plebeian jealousy of aristocracies, will show little of the capacity or sense the occasion demands. It is a national call for good service. If the aristocracy can supply that good service, they will be the class of all others to whom the nation would willingly look ; but, whether from aristocrat or plebeian, good service, ability, and energy, are the qualities the nation demands from those whom it intruats with the honours and duties of adminis- tration.
It being thus clear that the source of the evil complained of is the predominance of political partisanship in our affairs, which accidentally enables a few titled families to dispose of the offices of state with no reference to the fitness of persons to fill those offices, the Association for reforming the evils will do well to understand how the remedy must adapt itself to the mischief. The phrase of " the right men in the right places " will do little for us beyond a general fixing of the aim : what prevents the right men being now in the right places ?--the right menTheing, not the wisest philo- sophers, or even the most, clear-headed and energetic men of business to be discovered on the face of the earth, but the men inclined most wisdom, energy, and special aptitude, among re those who anclined to devote themselves to the service of the state. Unquestionably, the one great obstacle is the habit of de- manding a seat in Parliament as the condition of high office, while experience and reason alike testify that what is called in this country Parliamentary ability is in no way connected with apti- tude for office. Parliamentary ability is a specialty to which much that is most precious in intellect and character must be ruthlessly sacrificed ; and besides, the choice is thus extremely limited by reason of the difficulty of getting into Parliament for all but one class, while the claims of that class are allowed a most absurd preponderance. The proposal to give to the Crown the power of granting official seats without votes appears a natural and easy remedy for this state of things. But is it practicable ? Would the Crown—in other words the Prime Minister—be able to resist the importunity of his Parliamentary followers ? The mo- tives that keep parties together now are pretty well understood to consist— quite independently of principle—of the hope of office entertained by the aspirants of the party, and of the certainty of patronage when the party is in, indiscriminately extended to all its Parliamentary supporters, and by them diffused for a con- sideration political or otherwise through the constituencies. If the permanent civil service be reformed by an examination which should exclude incompetent persons and a system of pro- motion which should exclude political or personal preferences, and if the so-called political offices should no longer be the prizea of Parliamentary partisans, it is certain that a great change must come over the House of Commons, and the question of how the Queen's government can be carried on must be met and answered by the advocates of the change. We put the case not as hostile to the change,—for of its necessity sooner or later, unless the revenues and the reputation of the country are to be seriously damaged, we have no doubt,—but simply as warning the members of the new Association of the dangerous ground on which they are treading, and of the very grave enterprise they are taking in hand. To take as their cry " the right men in the right places," is to assert that hitherto the right men have not been in their right places, and that our method of selecting our chief officials has been wrong. This method, however, is the method of political parties, organized after some rude likeness to the currents of opinion among us on definite political questions ; and to protest against the method is at bottom to protest against the influences that have hitherto been predominant among us. We have already said that these influences have been less powerful of late years ; the war has checked them still more ; and perhaps at this moment, under an Administration representing only the debris of a poli- tical party, they are at zero in the nation, though as powerful as i ever in the clubs and fashionable coteries. Now, undoubtedly, is the time to strike a heavy blow at government by party as it has hitherto ruled among us. But it will only be done effectively if those who take it in hand can succeed in show- ing how to unite the dignity and unimpeded action of Par- liament with a vigorous and able administration ; bow, in a word, the country can reward its Parliamentary servants with- out impairing the efficiency of its administrative services. We believe this is the exactest form of the problem. The nation acts upon the Government through Parliament ; through Par- liament it effects those changes in the laws and the mode of their administration which it thinks desirable ; but the only efficacious method of effecting this has been found to be, to make leading members of Parliament the chiefs of the Executive, and give them the power of appointing to certain lucrative offices; from this method again have resulted the evils of admi- nistrative inefficiency of which the country now complains. If the power of the Crown has diminished and ought to be increased, would this be anything more than increasing the power and pa- tronage of the Prime Minister ; and is it not precisely the misuse of such power- and patronage that we are now complaining of ? Or should our chief Ministers be permanent officers, no longer removeable by an adverse vote of the Commons? Then the sole resource of the Commons would be to refuse the Supplies. And supposing no such dead-lock to occur, would the Crown be likely to choose Ministers more entirely with reference to ability than the persons who now practically have the choice ? These may appear extravagant questions toogreat departures from our habitual and constitutional practice to be worth the con- sideration of practical politicians. But they are all questions arising immediately out of any scheme for controlling the po- litical parties in their exercise of patronage, and out of the general demand for administrative reform. In fact, sim- ple as this question appears, it goes down just to the funda- mental question of politics, and is in essence nothing but this—to whom shall the necessary powers of government be intrusted ? It is because it is so fundamental, so searching, so related to sub- stance and not to form merely, that it has so much interest for men. For the same reason, it will not do to enter upon practical measures bearing upon it without clearing away all doubt as to what the question is really—what the evil to be remedied is, what its source, whether it is inherent in a popular constitution, or a fungus growth impeding the beneficial action of such a con- stitution. We think we see in the signs of the times indications that government by party has received its death-stroke among us, and is only prolonging a mischievous galvanic existence ; we hail in this movement, if it only understand itself and work itself out, a stronger evidence of the same fact ; but, galvanic as party existence may be, the selfishness which assumes that mask and avails itself of party influences is unhappily not galvanic but very real and vital. The issue is between the selfishness of the few who profit by party madness, and the common sense of the nation which is wronged by it. We wish it were certain that the victory in such a conflict were as clear as the right. But facts are strong; and prudence and self-command are strong. If the authors of the movement rely on well-proved facts, and fearlessly expose facts without regard to persons and without unfairness to persons, good must come of their efforts, though it is impossible to say yet in what definite form.